Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) - Reflections and observations by Dr Jim Byrne
 

The theory of REBT

Extracted from Dr Jim Byrne's book - A Wounded Psychotherapist - Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2013.

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"We teach people that they upset themselves. We can't change the past, so we change how people are thinking, feeling and behaving today".  Albert Ellis

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In principle, Ellis’s philosophy is a very simple one; and a very powerful one.  (And it is not immediately obvious that it contains a number of errors and problems).  The principal postulates are as follows:

1. People are born with innate tendencies towards rationality and irrationality (and they also pick them up from their culture).

2. It’s our irrational thinking that mainly causes our emotional disturbances (of anger, anxiety, depression, etc).

3. Irrationality consists of:

(a) Demanding that we absolutely must get what we want, when we want it, right now, immediately! 

(b) Catastrophizing (or ‘awfulizing’) about it when we don’t get our demands met. 

(c) Telling ourselves we ‘cannot stand’ life’s frustrations and difficulties, losses and failures, etc.  And:

(d) Condemning and damning ourselves, other people and/or the world when things go wrong in our lives.

4. To implement this understanding in therapy sessions, Dr Ellis developed the A-B-C (D-E) model of human disturbance, which works like this:

A = What happened (in your [the client’s] life; or in your memory/recall; or in your anticipations; to cause you to feel some emotional distress?  (Whatever ‘it’ was, it is called ‘the A’, or the ‘Activating event’ or ‘stimulus’)

B = Your beliefs about ‘A’.  (What did you tell yourself [or signal yourself] about the event, or recollection, or anticipation?)

C = What was the Consequent emotion (and behaviour)?  (The assumption is that the ‘C’, or consequent emotion, is caused by ‘the A’ multiplied by the intensity of ‘the B’: [Or A x B = C, for short]).

D = Detecting, defining and debating/disputing the ‘irrational beliefs’ that caused your disturbed emotion (at ‘point C’).  This disputing process will eliminate your distressed emotion, and replace it with a ‘reasonable upset’ (such as irritation instead of anger; concern instead of anxiety; and sadness instead of depression).  The ‘reasonable upsets’ (of irritation, concern and sadness) are much less distressing and painful than the ‘overly upset emotions’ of anger, anxiety and depression.

E = Effective new philosophy.  This involves replacing your irrational beliefs with rational beliefs (constituting an Effective new philosophy).  This Effective new philosophy contains such elements as: preferring some outcome instead of demanding it; rating your noxious situations realistically (as in ‘30% bad’ instead of ‘100% bad’); recognizing that you can stand any difficulty, right up to, but not including, your own death – and you won’t need to handle your own death, as you will not be present when it arrives!  And: Giving up condemning and damning your-self, other people and the world, and substituting Accept-ance of self, others and the world.

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And in this format, it seems to me that REBT is all strengths, with few obvious weaknesses.  I have used it extensively, on myself, and with numerous counselling clients, over many years, with great results.

However, over time, I was to discover some concealed weaknesses which are not immediately obvious.  (For example, the theory does not really talk about ‘acceptance’, but rather ‘unconditional acceptance’ – which means that “even Adolf Hitler was not a bad person!”,[i] according to Ellis. That is an unrealistic stance to take in a society, because in a society (as opposed to living up in the clouds!) it is necessary to have legal systems and moral codes to guide human behaviour and to manage deviations which potentially harm others.  [See Byrne 2010b, in the list of References, below; plus Appendix G at the back of this book]).

I discovered the weaknesses of REBT quite by accident; and I began to deviate from the official model as a result.  In fact, my deviations from Dr Ellis’s philosophy had begun in 2001, when I began to review a critique of REBT, by Frank Bond and Windy Dryden, from 1996.  (See my CENT Paper No.1(a), [Byrne 2009c])[ii].  Those authors had raised concerns about the core of REBT theory being essentially untestable.  I waded in to defend REBT; went back to basics to clarify the core model – the ABC model – and in the process I raised more questions than I answered.

 


[i] Albert Ellis’s reasoning here is this: He defines a ‘bad person’ as somebody who “always and only does bad things”.  But this is his own esoteric definition.  In more mainstream moral philosophy debates, the lines of demarcation fall between those who think that situational factors are more important than dispositional factors in turning a good person bad.  But there is no tendency in those debates to deny the existence of good and evil, or to recognize that a pattern of bad behaviour indicates the existence of a bad character (whether that badness results more from situational factors than dispositional factors, or vice versa). And bad character is normally flagged up by saying the person displaying it is themselves a bad person.  (Zimbardo, 2009).  Of course, a bad person (a person of bad character) can reform their character and become a good person.  Not immediately; not effortlessly; but definitely they can do it.  Your character is indicated by “Who you are and what you do when no one is looking”: (Source: http://www.characterunlimited.com/ character_ethics.htm).  If you are seen as a bad person, that is your personal reputation; it is not just the reputation of your behaviours. Because our reputations affect our outcomes in life, we each have to pay attention to our reputations, and to aim to earn a reputation as a good person.

For an illustration of good and bad people in action, think about the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood.  Robin Hood is universally loved as a good man, while the Sheriff of Nottingham is reviled as an evil man.  The people of Nottingham would have burned Albert Ellis at the stake if he’d turned up and told them: “Look!  The Sheriff cannot be a bad man, because a bad man would always and only do bad things; and the Sheriff loves Maid Marion and his hunting dogs, which proves he can’t be bad”.  Who cares who or what the Sheriff loves?  He has a consistent pattern of behaviour which indicates bad character, especially cruelty, and he pursues oppressive and exploitative policies (at least in the fictional world of Nottingham Forest!).  He is a bad man in practice, and should be related to as a bad man, who needs to be opposed. (Marinoff, 2004). "Character is not reflected by what we say, or even by what we intend, it is a reflection of what we do." - Anonymous.  So we are our current character; and we are what we do.  (If we prove to be ineffective or inefficient, that is no big deal – we can excuse ourselves for that, because inefficiency and ineffectiveness are not MORAL issues! Moral issues concern the possibility of causing harm to others).  See Appendix G for further elaboration).

[ii] Byrne, J. (2009c) Rethinking the psychological models underpinning Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT).  Cent Paper No.1(a).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT.  Available online: http://www.abc-counselling.com/id184.html.

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If you want to understand the strenths and limitations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) then the best place to start is by reading my book which explores the childhood of Albert Ellis; how his chronic parental neglect negatively impacted his attachment style; how he became insecurely attached and significanly amoral; and how those negative developments led on to the weaknesses of REBT theory and practice:

 

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A revolutionary book on the childhood of Albert Ellis and the impact of his suffering on the shape of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)

A_Wounded_Psychother_Cover_for_Kindle.jpg

‘A Wounded psychotherapist’ is a thoroughly researched and tightly argued book by Dr Jim Byrne.  It is an analysis of both the childhood of Dr Albert Ellis (the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy [REBT]), and how some of those childhood experiences most likely gave rise to certain features of his later philosophy of psychotherapy.  

If you have ever wondered what the roots of REBT might have been, and how valid they are, then this is the book for you.  it explores the childhood difficulties of Albert Ellis, and links those difficulties forward to the ways in which REBT was eventually shaped.  

It also identified the strengths and weaknesses of REBT, and proposes an agenda for reform of this radical system of psychotherapy. To read more, please go to: A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis’s childhood and the strengths and limitations of REBT.*** 

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Articles and papers on the theory and practice of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)

Here is a selection of the articles and papers in which I explored and investigated the strengths and weaknesses of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, over a period of years:

 

Byrne, J. (2009) Rethinking the psychological models underpinning Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT).  Cent Paper No.1(a).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT.  Brief extract: Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy (CENT) arose out of Dr Byrne's attempts to reconcile Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) and certain other elements of therapy systems that he found useful: commencing with Transactional Analysis (TA), Zen philosophy, and later, attachment theory.  It was also shaped by his discovery of some limitations of certain aspects of REBT theory.  However, much of the foundations of REBT still serve as important elements of CENT.  Pages: 24.  Available online: Complex ABC Model of REBT***

Byrne, J. (2009) Beyond REBT: The case for moving on.  CENT Paper No.1(b).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT.  Brief extract: For a good number of years, Dr Byrne failed to notice that REBT was strongly (if unintentionally) advocating that people ignore social norms regarding moral judgement.  For example, Dr Ellis's repeated references to the claim that "Hitler was not a bad man!"  And "Why must life be fair?"  These seemed to be 'harmless therapeutic tools', but the time would come when they would be applied socially as guides to action or non-action.  The author was finally awoken to this danger by widely circulating reports of the way in which Dr Ellis was treated in the final years of his life by some of his former colleagues; and by counter claims of imoral behaviour by Dr Ellis.  Pages: 10. Available online: Beyond REBT: The birth of CENT***  
 
Byrne, J. (2011) Additional limitations of the ABCs of REBT.  CENT Paper No.1(c).  HebdenBridge: The Institute for CENTBrief extract: CENT has problems with the simple A>B>C model of REBT, and we have evolved a more complex model of the ABCs, which are in line with Dr Albert Ellis’s more complex thinking from 1958-1962. The simple A>B>C model is useful and helpful, if used cautiously.  It isan oversimplification of what happens in human functioning.  It asserts that (1) something happens (at point A); then (2) the individual adopts a belief about it (at point B); and finally (3) this results in an emotional and behavioural response (at point C).  Actually, human functioning is much more complex than this.  Pages: 15.  Available online: Further problems with the ABCs of REBT***

Byrne, J. (2011)  On the Conceptual Errors of Bond and Dryden (1996): or how to scientifically validate the central hypotheses of REBT.  CENT Paper No.1(d).  Heben Bridge: The Institute for CENT.  Brief extract: This paper was origianlly written as ABC Occasional Paper No.7, and published six years before the first CENT paper above, in August 2003. This document was designed as the first of several inquiries into the nature and veracity of Bond and Dryden's (1996) critique of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). (See also CENT Paper No.1(a) above).  The author was convinced that REBT could be effectively defended against these criticisms, and that the work of Dr Albert Ellis could be shown to be beyond reproach.  In practice, this document identified some conceptual errors on the part of Drs Bond and Dryden, but also some ambiguous formulations of his ideas by Dr Albert Ellis.  Pages: 90. Available online: Conceptual errors of Bond and Dryden (1996)***

Byrne, J. (2010) Fairness, Justice and Morality Issues in REBT and CENT.  CENT Paper No.2(b).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT.  Brief extract: A CENT therapist cannot ignore problems of social injustice.  It would be immoral for a therapist to always assume their clients are wrong in claiming that they are being treated unfairly.  It could also have a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of an individual to have their just claim for fairness dismissed out of hand by their counsellor or therapist.  And in discounting claims of unfairness by a client, the therapist runs the risk of road-blocking their communication.   Pages: 41.  Available online: Fairness, Justice and Morality in REBT and CENT*** 

Byrne, J. (2010) Self-acceptance and other-acceptance in relation to competence and morality. CENT Paper No.2(c).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT.  Brief extractDr Byrne's stance on acceptance is this: "I do not accept you (or anybody else) unconditionally.  There is no law of the universe that says I must do so!  And there may be a virtual law of the universethat says I must respond (relatively) vengefully whenever anybody treats me unfairly, according to Haidt (2006).  Instead of offering individuals Unconditional Acceptance, CENT therapists offer One-Conditional Acceptance: 'I will accept you totally without reserve, no matter how incompetently or inefficiently you act or think, so long as your are committed to living a moral life.  That is an absolute condition of our relationship."   Pages: 44. Available online: One-conditional self acceptance***  
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Byrne, J. (2011) Some clarifications of the parting of the ways: An open letter to Dr Albert Ellis, on the fourth anniversary of his death.  CENT Paper No.12.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT..  Brief extract: This paper is written in the form of an open letter to Dr Albert Ellis, and this is how I defined my goals for the writing of this document: (1) to honour your value as a human being, and as a great psychotherapist, who helped me, and perhaps tens of thousands of others, to get over their emotional disturbances - through your therapy sessions, books, videos, audio programs, public lectures, and (in my case) personal letters and emails; and: (2) to clarify some of the ways in which I have moved on from REBT into the somewhat overlapping territory of CENT.Pages: 18.  Available online: An open letter to Albert Ellis about REBT and CENT theories*** 
 

Byrne, J. (2012) Reviewing some strengths and weaknesses of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) - and outlining some innovations.  CENT Paper No.22.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT.  The author explores his association with Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT); outlines some of its strengths; summarizes the main weaknesses and deficiencies in REBT; and looks at the role of Goals in human disturbance.  He also explores the concept of 'human emotional needs', which is not considered valid in REBT; explores some refinements of the A>B>C model; illustrates aspects of the complex A>B>C model; and critiques the typical structure of an REBT session. He then advocates restoring the Stimulus>Organism>Response model to replace the A>B>C model; outlines the CENT session structure; and contrasts the process of 'disputing irrational beliefs' with the gentler, less conflictual process of 're-framing the problem', which is used in Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy (CENT).  Available online: Reviewing some strengths and weaknesses of REBT.*** 

 

Byrne, J. (2012) My final farewell to Dr Albert Ellis: An open letter.  CENT Paper No.23.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT.  Just as on previous anniversaries of the death of Dr Albert Ellis, I feel the need to communicate with that part of Al which is still stuck in my mind.  I am striving to achieve completion with that part of him, and I believe I have finally achieved it with this open letter.  Just as on previous anniversaries of the death of Dr Albert Ellis, I feel the need to communicate with that part of Al which is still stuck in my mind.  I am striving to achieve completion with that part of him, and I believe I have finally achieved it with this open letter.  Available online: Final Farewell to Albert Ellis...***

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A revolutionary book on the childhood of Albert Ellis and the impact of his suffering on the shape of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)

A_Wounded_Psychother_Cover_for_Kindle.jpg

‘A Wounded psychotherapist’ is a thoroughly researched and tightly argued book by Dr Jim Byrne.  It is an analysis of both the childhood of Dr Albert Ellis (the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy [REBT]), and how some of those childhood experiences most likely gave rise to certain features of his later philosophy of psychotherapy.  

If you have ever wondered what the roots of REBT might have been, and how valid they are, then this is the book for you.  it explores the childhood difficulties of Albert Ellis, and links those difficulties forward to the ways in which REBT was eventually shaped.  

It also identified the strengths and weaknesses of REBT, and proposes an agenda for reform of this radical system of psychotherapy. To read more, please go to: A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis’s childhood and the strengths and limitations of REBT.*** 

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